The Passamaquoddy Tribe owns a wild blueberry farm, Northeastern Blueberry Company (NEBCO), that is located over 50 miles away from the two Passamaquoddy Reservations in Washington County, Maine. There is little community involvement or knowledge about the farm which has been run by the Tribe for the past 24 years. The Passamaquoddy Tribe wants to inspire young people to work in this farm business and to educate the community about the Tribal farm and operations.
This grant targeted 7th and 8th grade students at both Tribal communities. Students have been bused three times to the farm during the growing season. They visited in spring during blueberry pollination; they participated in the blueberry and cranberry harvest; and they toured the blueberry canning factory. The students did some in-school research on blueberries and cranberries and turned their knowledge into recipes, cooked products and artworks.
A student design competition was announced at each reservation school during the winter months for the best berry value-added product and the best package. These products and packages were displayed and judged at a school open house held in the spring. At each community, the winners were honored and an honorarium payment was given in each category of product design. These community gatherings showcased the student winners and the farm. The students created and displayed power point presentations using the photographs they took on their visits. Photo displays were created by NEBCO that showed the student visits and different activities they participated in at the farm. The NEBCO manager, board members and field workers answered questions and assisted the students in educating their families and the community about the NEBCO farm. A booklet was created for this event which highlighted the farm, the activities that go into farming wild berries and capital improvements. By promoting creativity and hands-on activities, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and NEBCO hope to inspire young people and educate them about the agricultural opportunities at Northeastern Blueberry Company.
• Promote community knowledge and pride in the Passamaquoddy Wild Blueberry Farm.
• Inspire Tribal youth to an interest in agriculture and business.
• Bus students from Pleasant Point and Indian Township to NEBCO to observe farm activities, harvest and fruit processing.
• Provide educational materials and speakers to both reservation schools to promote research of blueberries and cranberries and the Passamaquoddy connections to both fruit.
• Sponsor a design contest for students, where students will receive design awards for value-added berry products and marketing ideas.
• Coordinate a community open house with the school to promote student work and accomplishments and to educate the community about the NEBCO farm.
The project started in the spring of 2006 by conducting an introductory meeting at each school. The NEBCO coordinator met with participating teachers and the school principals to discuss the project and identify educational materials that were needed by the teachers. The grant budget was presented and details of the up-coming trips were discussed. A letter was written to both school boards and to the superintendent of Maine Indian Education to let them know about the project. Digital cameras were purchased and distributed at both schools, along with educational materials.
The first bus trip to NEBCO was scheduled in late May 2006. Forty-five students and seven teachers from both reservations arrived at NEBCO and were met by the manager, Darrell Newell. The students were given brief pesticide training by a Tribal member working at NEBCO, and then loaded in two buses to head out to the fields. In the fields, the students watched a bee-keeper demonstration from the bus. During lunch, the bee-keepers returned to answer questions and give further information. The group also visited the weather station on the farm and observed the daily data collection.
A smaller group of students visited the farm in August during the blueberry harvest. Two van loads of students and chaperones learned to rake and clean wild blueberries. On this trip, we visited the migrant camps and met up with friends and relatives from home who were working the harvest. Before returning home to clean and freeze the wild blueberries, the students visited the migrant school and mobile health facilities set up for the harvest.
In October, forty-three students returned to participate in the cranberry harvest. This time we scheduled them in two groups and each group was able to photograph and help with the cranberry harvest. They then jumped on the bus and toured the factory where the berries are canned. This was a big day, rather wet, but both groups returned home with a big bucket of cranberries and some canned blueberries from the factory.
After school started in the fall, the staff at NEBCO shared a blueberry curriculum created by the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission with the teachers at both schools. Background information was also shared on bees and on the history of the blueberry industry. Northeastern Blueberry Company had hoped that the teachers would pick up on the blueberry curriculum and include it where ever they could in their teaching day. Specific teachers did this with great enthusiasm; other teachers did not participate. In February, a lead art teacher went on extended leave for medical reasons. She was the inspiration for the product and design competition and was a major motivator for other teachers. At this juncture, canceling the project was discussed.
Our final decision was to adjust the methods and finish the project by hiring a cook in each community to coordinate with the teachers and to work with the students to find recipes and practice cooking after school and during art class. This approach was very successful as it brought parents into the project and took the pressure off the teachers. The teachers were very cooperative, but a new reading curriculum and other requirements made it difficult to squeeze in the berry project.
Lisa, the cook in Sipayik, told me that many kids wanted to enter the cooking contest, but did not have support from home. She organized with the teachers to find time to cook with students. She cooked at home with students a few times, and coordinated cooking on a regular basis at the school. She was instrumental in assisting to get entries in on time in Sipayik.
The final awards night was organized in both communities. Judges were chosen and invitations were sent to the Elderly Meal Site and the Tribal Council on both reservations. Posters were put up in public places. Approximately 75 – 85 people attended the award ceremonies and approximately 30 students participated in the contest. Tasting the berry products was a popular activity. Wall posters with pictures of the farm and the student’s visits were displayed at each event. (see pictures) Booklets describing the company and picturing the work year were given to interested persons. At the awards night, kids and parents laughed at pictures of themselves and chatted with personnel from Northeastern Blueberry Co. The participating students were beaming. When Cody Sprague, 7th grade, was asked what his favorite part of the project was, he replied, “finding and cooking a recipe”.
This project has directly impacted 45 students from both reservations. These students and their families now know much more about the wild blueberry farm, NEBCO. Many younger students have asked when they might get to visit the farm, so we think many more students have been impacted. The middle school boys think that it is “cool” to work at NEBCO, and I consider that a large impact! A dozen teachers and the two principals now know about the farm and have spent some time integrating farm activities into their curriculum. It is hoped that the school personnel will continue to educate students about the farm and bring them to observe and participate in select farm activities.
Other outcomes are that the seventh grade at Indian Township produced recipe books in English and Passamaquoddy for a language class. Blueberry and cranberry goodies were shared with friends and family in preparation for the student contest. Many adolescent boys and girls got to don hair nets and aprons to cook perhaps for the first time. Children and families shared these experiences at the open house through the photo displays and their own stories. The impact on the reservation community was positive and many questions about the company were answered. Passamaquoddy community members now have accurate information about the farm and the opportunities for work that exist there. They also should better understand the economic benefits to the Tribe provided by NEBCO.
The impact on the farm from this project has been very positive. Participation by farm employees in educating the students has been exceptional. A strong desire was shown to share with the students and the employees showed pride in their work and appreciation for the company and the fruit grown there.
NEBCO will continue to encourage visits by student groups at their request. The farm now has curriculum materials on wild blueberries and cranberries which can be made available to educators on request. Experience showed that asking teachers to add new information to their curriculum is not effective or practical.
An outcome of this project is that NEBCO will prepare workshop materials to take to the school or Tribal functions when requested. The NEBCO booklet that was created through this grant was an effective community educational tool. The Tribe plans to update and distribute this publication periodically in the future. Educating the Tribal community and youth about the NEBCO farm will be an on-going activity.